Article and Photographs by Stacy N. Benjamin
When you brew kombucha, also known as fermented tea, you will be making a drink that has been around for a very long time. It’s only recently that it’s become a widely known and popular beverage. Beautiful photos of this colorful beverage are common on social media, and a wide variety of fermented tea flavors can be found lining grocery store shelves. Once you are brewing kombucha at home, you will enjoy it everyday.
Even in small towns, kombucha is no longer just an exotic sounding beverage. It’s become quite popular with everyday people. After a conversation with a waitress at my local dive bar about her favorite varieties of kombucha, I decided that I was going to see what the fuss was all about.
After a few hours of internet research about fermented tea and how to brew kombucha, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s easy to do with a relatively minimal cost and time investment.
The Basics of Brewing Kombucha
The first thing you’ll need to start making fermented tea is a SCOBY. This is a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and yeast. It typically looks like a white rubbery disc. If you can obtain one locally from a nearby brewer, that’s ideal, but if not, they can also be ordered online.
Be sure to do your research and find a reputable source. In addition to a SCOBY, the short-list of basic brewing ingredients and supplies includes:
Fermented Tea Ingredients
- 1-2 tablespoons loose leaf tea or 3-5 tea bags
- 1 cup plain white sugar
- 1 gallon chlorine-free water (well water, spring water, or boiled municipal tap water if chlorine has been added)
Equipment to Brew Kombucha
- 2-gallon glass brewing vessel with a stainless steel spigot
- cloth cover
- kettle or pot for making the sweet tea
- long handled spoon
- Stainer, optional
- Bottle funnel
- glass bottles to use for flavoring and storing the kombucha
The steps for brewing kombucha are very straightforward. You can use the quantities below to set up a 1 gallon brew if you have a small SCOBY and small amount of starter liquid. But you can also make larger batches depending upon the size of your SCOBY.
Just like with any type of home brewing, fermenting, or food preservation, it’s important to use clean equipment in order to ensure a safe, contaminant-free environment.
Choosing a Container to Brew Kombucha
When selecting your brewing vessel, choose one with a high quality spigot that can withstand the acidity of kombucha and will not corrode or degrade over time. Low grade plastic or metallic looking paints or coatings are not appropriate for the brewing environment. A glass brewing vessel with a stainless steel spigot is a safe choice for long-term use.
Choosing Bottles to Store Kombucha
You can use a variety of glass bottles for flavoring and storing your kombucha. Air-tight swingtip bottles are an attractive choice for storing your kombucha. Any type of heavy duty glass bottle that can withstand the pressure of carbonation will work.
Adding flavoring ingredients such as fruits not only gives you a variety of flavors to enjoy, but it will also induce a secondary fermentation to add additional effervescence to your kombucha. Glass bottles with a larger opening that allow for easier cleaning are best to use when adding flavoring ingredients to your kombucha.
After You Brew Kombucha- Get the Bottles Ready!
Giving the kombucha a few days to absorb the flavoring ingredients. Next, you can use a strainer and bottle funnel to pour the flavored kombucha into a clean bottle for storage. This will produce a more professional looking final beverage.
The steps to brewing kombucha are listed briefly below. Although the basic process is simple, there are a lot of nuances and subtleties in the process. Getting a book on how to brew kombucha and familiarizing yourself with the steps in more detail before making your first batch can help ensure your first batch is a success.
Steps for Brewing Kombucha
- Prepare 1 quart of hot tea using either 1-2 tablespoons of loose leaf tea or 3-5 tea bags. Use a good quality black or green tea, not herbal or decaffeinated tea.
- Dissolve 1 cup of plain white sugar into the hot tea.
- Pour 3 quarts of cool water into the brewing vessel and then add the hot tea.
- After the liquid in the brewing vessel has cooled to lukewarm temperature, place the SCOBY on top of the liquid. If you received more than one SCOBY you can set aside the extra in a separate jar (a SCOBY hotel) in case you need to restart your kombucha.
- Pour the starter liquid (which is mature kombucha) that came with your SCOBY on top of the SCOBY.
- Cover the brewing vessel with a piece of breathable fabric and secure with an elastic band.
- Store your brewing vessel in a relatively warm location with good air circulation and out of direct sunlight.
- Allow the brewing vessel to sit undisturbed while it turns into fermented tea for one week to several weeks. The time it will take your newly set up kombucha to become fermented tea will vary depending upon the room temperature. Other factors such as the size of your SCOBY and the strength of the starter liquid will have an impact.
How to Enjoy Your Fermented Tea
After a week or so is when the fun really begins!
You will be able to smell a vinegar aroma coming from the top of your brewing vessel. That means it’s time to start sampling. Pour out a shot glass sized sample from the spigot.
As the kombucha ferments, the flavor will taste less like a sweet tea and more tart or tangy. If your first sample still tastes fairly sweet, wait another couple of days and then sample it again. When the kombucha reaches a balance between sweet and tart or tangy that you like, you can remove some of the fermented tea for bottling.
Introducing a Second Ferment – Flavoring Kombucha Brews
You can either enjoy the kombucha as is, or you can flavor it with fruits, herbs, spices or savory ingredients. The possibilities are literally endless.
If you are satisfied with the level of tanginess in your fermented tea, it can be placed in the refrigerator to preserve the current level of tanginess. Or you can store the kombucha on the counter in bottles for a few days to allow it to continue to ferment and to develop the flavors of the added flavoring ingredients.
It is helpful to take notes as you brew kombucha, so keep a notebook in your kombucha brewing area. Record the date of when you set up your first batch and subsequent batches of kombucha, along with notes on sampling dates, and flavoring recipes. These observations will be a valuable reference as you brew fermented tea, and will help you know what worked well and also things that perhaps didn’t work as well.
Brew Kombucha using the Continuous Brewing Method
The continuous brew method is a great way to always have fermented tea ready to enjoy. It’s the method that I use, and you can read about my first two months of brewing kombucha using the continuous brew method here. For this method, you will want to leave approximately two-thirds of the kombucha in the brewing vessel after removing your first few bottles. This will give the next batch of kombucha a head start. Top up the brewing vessel with another gallon of sweet tea, and you’ll be enjoying your next batch of fermented tea in no time!
Allow the brewing vessel to sit another week or two and begin tasting again, and then repeat the process above. The rate at which fermentation occurs will be faster during the warmer spring and summer months and slower in the fall and winter months. The rate of fermentation will also become faster as the SCOBY and kombucha mature.
Long-term Care of your SCOBY for the next time you Brew Kombucha
Since the SCOBY is a living organism, over time it can grow quite large in size. You will need to maintain or trim your SCOBY occasionally. When it gets too large, your brew might ferment too quickly for your taste. It’s also a good idea to clean out the continuous brew vessel. Try to restart the process once or twice a year.
There is so much more to learn about brewing kombucha. I hope this brief introduction gets you excited to try making your own fermented tea!
Stacy N. Benjamin is a farmer and homesteader in Oregon. She raises chickens and turkeys and creates beautiful handmade soaps on her picturesque farm. You can see more from Stacy on the following links
Social media: Instagram @5rfarmoregon